REevaluating TUMOR CIRCUS – Tumor Circus (1991, Alternative Tentacles)

Ahh, shit it. I’ll review something new one day. For now:

I’ve never been complete sure of what constitutes a ‘forgotten’ album, and I can’t be bothered to read someone else’s opinion about it. The first album I was introduced as ‘forgotten’ was Adam Ant’s Dirk Wear’s White Sox, but perhaps that’s only in light of his metamorphosis into left-field pop music. Otherwise, I could mention millions of forgotten albums, some of them genuinely brilliant which will only be remembered by those who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Not enough people, evidently. These albums will never fetch much on ebay, but that’s hopefully never the purpose of music.

Does Tumor Circus count as forgotten? It’s one of the few post-Dead Kennedy releases by Jello Biafra not to mention his name in the band name, and seems to crop up in conversations less than his collaborations with DOA, NoMeansNo, Melvins, and his other-post DK band (until the Guantanamo School of Medicine), Lard.

Biafra seemed to be in a flurry of activity around the late 80s, early 90s. During around these years we get two spoken word albums, two collaborations, Lard (a ‘band’ proper?), a few movie appearances, and this album (essentially a collaboration with the noise punk bands Steel Pole Bath Tub and Grong Grong). Maybe it just got buried under higher-profile things.

It’s perhaps Biafra’s only foray into what’s become known as noise rock, and musically it does seem to have siblings with the Jesus Lizard, Melvins (whatever they are), Big Black, etc. For the most part, there’s a scratchy, sludgy, gnarly guitar stretches over a jangly bass that drives and weaves everything together and heavy drums. Biafra’s very individual yelping ranting on top, needlesstosaybutsaidnonetheless.

And it’s, in parts, great. Some of it, such as Take Me Back or I’ll Drown Your Dog (Headlines) would not be out of place on the Dead Kennedys, and wouldn’t at all be an embarrassing addition, either. And such is Biafra’s individual style that it’ll always be hard to remove his voice from the surf-punk-hardcore of the DKs, but, while there is that, as well as element of punk rock that continues, the band makes enough of a move towards noise, atonalism and those alternative ’90s grooves to be distnct from DKs.

The opener, Hazing for Success (Pork Grind Confidential) is a nice lesson in noisy sludge, and is quite dramatic – a murkier, darker, swampier music template than Biafra tends to go. The trebly haze wilfulness of the guitars to refuse to conform to anything resembling a tight rhythm leads the sound more astray: it has that noise rock sloppiness which is so appealing. The mix is such that Biafra’s voice is also much more part of the noise, and his voice does go amiss sometimes, but that’s perhaps the mix rather than the intention.

Some excellent stuff happens in between – listen to it. The 15 minute closer, ‘Turn off the Respirator,’ ventures the Melvins way, yet with Biafra’s delivery taking it not so much post-apocalyptic as witnessing it as it happens. It’s almost John Lydon at his most-doom-laden. Perhaps it is what Biafra does at his best: witnessing of the apocalypse in slow motion, detailing it as it happens, while so few others notice it.

Rating: Bloody, yeah. Perhaps even  worth getting above his other, more straightforward collaborations apart from Lard and Mojo Nixon.

That’s it, George. It’s your turn, George. You know the rules, you know the rules.

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